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Macro Monday 13th July 2020

The cooler weather continues, interspersed with rain and cloudier days. These are good macro conditions. I spent a couple of lunchtimes outside this week with my heavier macro equipment – I have been very lazy recently only using my smaller mirrorless camera with in-built flash – and what I saw was pretty harrowing but also quite amazing.

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I have mentioned before that part of my lawn is dying, likely due to the lack of spring rain. I don’t mind this because it annoys people who like tidy gardens and it provides a habitat niche for wildlife. In this case, it was for the benefit of yellow-legged mining bees (I still haven’t confirmed that ID but will go with it). The ground will recover anyway in the autumn and winter. I was sitting on the grass to see if some of the mining bees would be coming out. I noticed a dead bee and took a photo. Then I noticed another one. There was another insect hovering over the area of mining bee nests which at first thought was something like a ruby-tailed wasp, as I could see its red ‘tail’ or lower body. I was desperate for it to land so I could get a photo. When it did, I was amazed at what happened next.

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It flew down straight to the nesting holes and pulled a roosting mining bee out.

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A wrestling match then ensued among the dead grasses surrounding the nesting hole.

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I recognised that the insect was a blood bee, having seen them for the first time last month on the South Downs. The blood bee was the stronger of the two.

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This was the best image I got from what I realised was the blood bee stinging (perhaps) the mining bee and either paralysing or killing it. By this point the adrenaline was pumping for me also. The mining bee began to thrash around when it was released by the blood bee and it lay next to another mining bee which was still alive but fading away. I believe the blood bee had pulled the mining bees out of the nests (perhaps they were a male and female together in one nest) and killed them to use the nest for itself. It was at this point that I began to notice more dead mining bees and it dawned on me – I was watching the raid of a blood bee on an entire colony of mining bees in my own small garden.

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I had gone back to work after that somewhat shocked by the smash and grab episode. I did feel sadness for the mining bees and the killing field which had appeared in my garden. But that’s a human response to an issue that doesn’t exist. We should feel much greater sadness or anger for a wider loss of habitat than we should say a magpie or jay raiding a nest. You have to remember the bigger picture.

The next day I went out again at lunchtime to see how the mining bees were doing. I found a detached ‘doorway’ of soil which had a dead mining bee in it but there were several sitting in their doorways.

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I don’t think there can be any sense of change for this community of bees (bearing in mind they’re not social but solitary, beyond their pairs). They will be aware of the threats they face, not least the house sparrows that often pluck bees and butterflies from the air. Some were still visiting flowers and there was no sign of the blood bee.

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There was need for a lockdown here, the mining bees had no choice but to go on. Of course, that is not comparable to the situation our species finds itself in.

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Nearby, this common yellow-face mining bee was recharging its battery in the hedge. It was really nice to finally get a decent image of this very small badger-like insect.

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It’s been a tough week for the mining bees in general. I was looking around a patch of cranesbills in a shadier corner and saw a dead bee floating in midair. Then I noticed the crab spider which had caught it. The spider was so well camouflaged, reflecting the fact that this species is able to change colour to match the flower it is hunting from. This is probably Misumena vatia, a common crab spider found in gardens, woods, meadows and urban habitats. This spider was turning the bee around and dropped it from its perch. I wonder if it climbed down to get it.

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Only a couple of inches away, another crab spider had caught a mining bee. Not a good day at the office!

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Wasps have had a lot of coverage in this blog and I was delighted to find a species of big-headed digger wasp (Ectemnius) on the fence one lunchtime. I was involved in a conversation with a neighbour at the time and had to say, sorry, I need to try and photograph this wasp! It would have been great to see it head on, but it didn’t hang around.

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We’ve let the grass grow long in parts of our small garden. At times I’ve heard the sibilant sound of a cricket or grasshopper, showing the importance of allowing the grass to grow. In the hedge one lunchtime I found this speckled bush cricket. It really did not like me noticing it and would shuffle into the leaves to try and hide.

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Ending on a gentler note than this post began with, I have been trying to grow courgettes this year after experiencing the same panic that many people felt about supermarkets back in March. I didn’t stockpile toilet roll-shaped pasta though. Many of the courgettes are now flowering and I was interested to see if they had any value for insects. Sure enough, this flower was rammed with pollen beetles.

Thanks for reading.

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